What the Grid Reveals: An Introduction to The Strip Hay(na)ku Project

Copies of The Strip Hay(na)ku Project (2019)

Here I share with you the Introduction I wrote for The Strip Hay(na)ku Project. A collaborative experiment in sequential graphic poetics (Meritage Press & L/O/C/P, 2019). It’s been lightly reformatted for this blog.

If you can please buy the book; it’s nice to hold and reads better than on the screen. Each copy will be printed out specially for you. If you are into limited edition comics, mini-comics, fanzines or poetry chapbooks it’s the kind of printed artifact you’d like in your collection methinks.

“Hay naku” is a common Filipino expression covering a variety of contexts—like the word “Oh.” The “hay(na)ku” is a 21st century poetic form invented by Eileen R. Tabios. It is a six-word tercet with the first line being one word, the second line being two words, and the third line being three words. Poets around the world have used the form and have created text and visual variations of the form, including the “chained hay(na)ku” which strings together more than one tercet as well as the reverse hay(na)ku where the word count is reversed. I started co-creating “strip hay(na)ku” poems in 2008, inspired by examples of Slovenian “strip haiku”.

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“The hay(na)ku’s swift popularity would not have been possible without internet-based communication,” Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Eileen R. Tabios and I wrote in the introduction to The Chained Hay(na)ku Project (Meritage Press and xPress(ed) 2010). We had posted the call for contributions to that book on the project’s blog on June 24 2007[1].

I may be misremembering, as more than a decade has now passed, but if the metadata from the media library of the Strip Hay(na)ku Project blog[2]  is correct, by February 2008 I had already co-created all the comics-poems/poems-comics in this collection. I remember first trying out one by myself, with my own images and words, and then realising the whole experiment could better be extended to become what we called on the project’s blog “a collaborative experiment on sequential graphic poetics”. It was all part of my own attempt to borrow the hay(na)ku experience, make it my own—I mexicanised it calling the form “jainakú”, to refer to the way I’d pronounce it in Spanish, and to reflect the fact that this was a poetic form that had a sense of humour and resisted the rigidity of snobbish seriousness. In fact, the original file names for all the strips contained in this book included the term “jainakú” to identify them.

The Strip Hay(na)ku Project sought to extend the collaborative, sequential/chained nature of the hay(na)ku to the realm of comics, abstract comics if you will, repurposing writing and images created by what then was a creative online community, what was a mutual, reciprocal blogroll of poets and artists who were bloggers and bloggers who were poets and artists (no one remembers what was first—did the order matter?). I have had a long-time interest in the comics grid (the array or layout of graphic panels; the specific distribution of images on a comic book page) as a poetic force, as a space for poetic revelation. It took me years to be able to formulate that the comics grid reveals, and to suggest that what the grid reveals is enabled by the spaces between images, by the quality of the presence and absence of panel borders, of what they contain and what they exclude.

As in poetry, in comics space and silence matter and communicate, express ideas, emotions, stuff. There was such richness in the materials created by the community represented in our blogrolls at the time—an intensity of creative feedback that the rise of social media dissipated and never managed to replicate. “I ask the woman”, “And then”, “The body remembers”, “A white page”, “Last night we”, “A wicked likeness” and “The things words” were indeed collaboratively submitted to The Chained Hay(na)ku Project call, with materials sourced from the contributors’ blogs, and were published in the collection (pages 30; 36; 45; 59; 77; 93; 96). That was the only printed record of this experiment until now: the present edition contains all the strip hay(na)kus we created during January and February 2008, and had never seen the light of the printed page before.

The strip hay(na)ku included here were not merely about exploring what happened when previous content was manipulated and rearranged in a specific panel layout that followed the rules of the hay(na)ku (1, 2 and 3 panels, or the other way around). The collaborative nature of the comic book (editors, writers, pencillers, inkers, colourists, etc) was definitely an inspiration to attempt a similar collective workflow, where there was not a single ‘author’ but a network of authors, each contributing an important element or process.

And indeed in the Strip Hay(na)ku Project an important goal was to focus on process, on the spaces and relationships between people located in specific -distanced- geographical and temporal points, expressing themselves in changing modes, with words or images, and in my case here, with layout design and word and image editing. If I used the term “sampling” at the time, it is because I was inspired by electronic methods of music composition and remixing, thinking of forms of digital collage and curation as poetic practice.

With the hindsight of more than ten years, I think some of these pieces were successful in what I thought they should have achieved, and that was to repurpose messages and to create new ones. I suppose the goal was to propose the hay(na)ku as a poetic theory and practice of space, and more specifically as a grid structure, a network, an infrastructure for poetic revelation.

In this sense I see the hay(na)ku, and the strip hay(na)ku in particular, as poetic expressions deeply rooted in Internet-mediated collaboration, poetry made with computers to be shared via computers (and now mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets). At the same time, and I hope this is materialised in the fact this is meant to be a print publication, my own approach to the hay(na)ku as a collaborative, multimodal poetic form is also embedded in the tradition of DIY fanzine making that, though digitally-mediated, still aims to achieve the feel and should I say “aura” of mechanical reproduction.

In creating the new pieces for the cover (also reproduced twice, in two sizes, inside) and back cover, words are missing on purpose, as an invitation to the reader to try to recreate it or augment it with their own lines. My hope, in rearranging my own work and the work of others in specific forms, was to reveal interconnections, juxtapositions, contradictions and new visions.

I would most surely do things slightly different today, but if I’m honest not drastically different, so I am still proud of what we were doing those ten years ago, at that specific time and place. I am, of course, immensely grateful for the generosity of all those who collaborated in the strips, because the work is ours and yours, because they and I and you gave it away to the page and the future. The work included in these pages still speaks, and perhaps, sometimes, even sings, even in what it does not do or fails to do, in the framed and unframed blank spaces between the ones, the twos and the threes.

November 2018

[1] Available at https://chainedhaynaku.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 18 November 2018].

[2]  Available at  https://thestripjainakuproject.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 18 November 2018].


Priego, E. (2019). The Strip Hay(na)ku Project. A collaborative experiment in sequential graphic poetics. California, USA: Meritage Press and L/O/C/P. ISBN 9781934299135. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/21927/

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.